Comparative Fault Cases In California

If "strict liability" is recognized as a somewhat imprecise term, "comparative fault" may be even more misleading. (See Arena, 63 Cal. App. 4th at p. 1194 describing "comparative negligence" as a "misnomer".) The doctrine allocates liability not simply on the relative blameworthiness of the parties' conduct, but on the proportion to which their conduct contributed to the plaintiffs' harm. A more accurate label might well have been something like "comparative responsibility." (See Wright, Allocating Liability Among Multiple Responsible Causes: a Principled Defense of Joint and Several Liability for Actual Harm and Risk Exposure (1988) 21 U.C. Davis L.Rev. 1141, 1145.) In 1978, the Supreme Court itself noted the seeming superiority of a term such as " 'equitable apportionment or allocation of loss.' " (Daly v. General Motors Corp. (1978) 20 Cal. 3d 725, 736 144 Cal. Rptr. 380, 575 P.2d 1162.) However, it continued to use the prevailing terminology while declining to place undue reliance on fixed semantic consistency." (Ibid.) The Supreme Court thus used, in a single sentence, both of the seemingly incompatible terms at issue, declaring that "a system of comparative fault should be and it is hereby extended to actions founded on strict products liability." (Id. at p. 742, italics added.) The court emphasized that it was "extending a full system of comparative fault to strict products liability . . . because it is fair to do so." (Ibid.) That same year, the court extended the comparative fault regime to actions for equitable indemnity between strictly liable defendants and their codefendants, observing as it did so that "juries are fully competent to apply comparative fault principles between negligent and strictly liable defendants." (Safeway Stores, Inc. v. Nest-Kart (1978) 21 Cal. 3d 322, 331 146 Cal. Rptr. 550, 579 P.2d 441.) Since then other courts have used both terms, or their equivalents, in the same breath. (See, e.g., Barrett v. Superior Court (1990) 222 Cal. App. 3d 1176, 1189 272 Cal. Rptr. 304 "principles of comparative fault . . . are applicable to actions founded on strict products liability"; Garcia v. Estate of Norton (1986) 183 Cal. App. 3d 413, 421 228 Cal. Rptr. 108 "there is no question that the principles of comparative fault . . . are now applicable to actions founded on strict products liability"; Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. v. Superior Court, supra, 15 Cal. App. 4th 547, 558 describing "concepts of fault and comparative fault" as "common to both negligence actions and those founded in strict products liability".)